Overcome Your Public-Speaking Anxiety

This month’s question:

“I dread nothing more than having to speak in public. Do you have any suggestions for how to make presentations less nerve-wracking for me?”


By Barbara Busey

The solution is simple: Just do it—and do it often. The more you present to a group of people, the more confident you’ll become in your public speaking skills. To help you overcome your jitters until you gain that confidence, here are three of my favorite anxiety-busting tips for presenters.

  1. Start with a prop or visual. You’re usually the most nervous at the beginning of a talk, so that strategy will get you out of the gate. If you start with a prop or visual, you’ll have more of a sense of purpose, something to do with your hands and something to focus on. That diminishes the helpless feeling that fuels your anxiety.
  2. Breathe! Think about symptoms of nervousness: your heart races, your voice quivers and your mind goes blank. A lack of oxygen exacerbates those symptoms, so it’s critical to focus on your breathing when your nerves take over. Before you speak, take several slow breaths. If you begin to feel panicky during your presentation, pause—and take a deep breath. You’ll be amazed by how much better you feel.
  3. Lighten up. If you have a bad case of the “gotta be perfects,” that’s a good sign you’re taking yourself too seriously. When something—inevitably—goes wrong, lighten up. So what if the projector doesn’t work? So what if you forget to mention something? So what if it’s not perfect? Let it go. Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself. It’ll help you relax.

Need more strategies for overcoming public speaking fears? Sign up for Barbara Busey’s Please Don’t Make Me Speak in Public! How to Look Forward to Public Presentations—Instead of Dreading Them audio conference.

Barbara Busey is president of Presentation Dynamics, where she teaches people how to present themselves better. She has been speaking, training, coaching and writing on powerful presentation skills since 1990. She has an award-winning book, Stand Out When You Stand Up—An A to Z Guide to Powerful Presentations. She has produced an audio CD, The Compelling Speaker, and a DVD, How to be a More Dynamic S.P.E.A.K.E.R. To order them or learn more about her offerings, visit her website: www.presentationdynamics.net.

June’s Poll Results:

In last month’s poll, we asked “Which is the most important step for a successful speech?”

Eighty-eight percent of you answered all of the steps—audience analysis, outline development, write and rewrite, practice and delivery—are crucial for a successful speech.

Tip: Memorize the key topics of your speech and fill in the gaps while making direct eye contact with your audience. You will come across as a well-prepared and knowledgeable presenter. Nothing says “unprepared” more than reading directly from your notes.

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Delivered each month, American Speaker Forum offers you public-speaking advice and tips for wowing your audience during your next presentation. This resource also offers you a way to ask for feedback on your next speaking engagement and to share your own experience with your colleagues.

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